Aug 1, 2005
For over a year now, the population of Niger, in West Africa, has faced famine. According to a U.N. representative, in Niger "150,000 children already show signs of severe malnutrition and face death if they do not receive aid" in the near future.
Niger, a French colony until 1960, is one of the poorest countries on earth. According to the U.S. State Department, the income in Niger per person was $170 a year in 2001. The death rate for children under five is enormous: one in four. Last year, the peasants faced another dry spell in a country two thirds of which is already desert. Their fields were invaded by locusts. And the price of the country's main staple, millet, has increased 500% since last October.
Over three million people, about a quarter of the Niger population, are living on the edge of starvation. Reports say some people are eating leaves and searching for seeds of grain in termite hives. Thousands of children have already died.
Yet government authorities refused to distribute free food. Why? According to a government spokesman, distributing grain would upset the interests of the grain growers, that is, it would lower their profits. The freedom of the "free" market to profit is more important than malnutrition and impending famine for much of the population.
And what did the head of the European Union, the U.N. representative and the French ambassador to Niger propose in place of this brutal government decision? They suggested grain should be sold "at moderate prices" to a population too ruined and too hungry even to work in their fields.
Only in July did the governments of the rich countries begin to move funds and food aid in the direction of the poor people of Niger. These governments, like Niger's, always concern themselves about their grain growers, and other business interests, before worrying about poor people who may starve to death.